IRS Announces HSA Limits for 2020

On May 28, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2019-25 announcing the annual inflation-adjusted limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) for calendar year 2020. An HSA is a tax-exempt savings account that employees can use to pay for qualified health expenses.

To be eligible for an HSA, an employee:

  • Must be covered by a qualified high deductible health plan (HDHP);

  • Must not have any disqualifying health coverage (called “impermissible non-HDHP coverage”);

  • Must not be enrolled in Medicare; and

  • May not be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

The limits vary based on whether an individual has self-only or family coverage under an HDHP. The limits are as follows:

  • 2020 HSA contribution limit:

    • Single: $3,550 (an increase of $50 from 2019)

    • Family: $7,100 (an increase of $100 from 2019)

    • Catch-up contributions for those age 55 and older remains at $1,000

  • 2020 HDHP minimum deductible (not applicable to preventive services):

    • Single: $1,400 (an increase of $50 from 2019)

    • Family: $2,800 (an increase of $100 from 2019)

  • 2020 HDHP maximum out-of-pocket limit:

    • Single: $6,900 (an increase of $150 from 2019)

    • Family: $13,800* (an increase of $300 from 2019)

*If the HDHP is a nongrandfathered plan, a per-person limit of $8,150 also will apply due to the Affordable Care Act’s cost-sharing provision for essential health benefits.

 

Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

Help employees choose the right benefits to manage health care costs in retirement

High health care costs during working years and in retirement can easily derail a financial plan. Employees need a long-term strategy. Fortunately, more and more employers are bolstering their benefits programs to help their employees build a stable financial future.

Increasingly, employers are offering products such as voluntary insurance benefits and health savings accounts (HSAs) that employees can combine to create comprehensive plans that meet their unique needs and goals. With the right plan in place, employees are better able to save consistently, cover unexpected expenses, protect and grow their savings and prepare for health care costs later in life.

The trend toward prioritizing employee wellness is only expected to grow. In a 2018 report by Willis Towers Watson, 92 percent of employers said voluntary benefits and services “will be at the forefront of their strategic thinking and important to their employee value proposition over the next three to five years.” That’s up from just 59 percent in 2013.

Here are four strategies employers can consider as they help employees navigate the benefits and planning landscape for the long term:

1. Encourage employees to look ahead, not just live in the moment

Many people, particularly younger employees, tend to focus on the present. They may not understand that an accident or injury can bring unexpected out-of-pocket costs, from lost wages to high deductibles to paying for help with their daily tasks as they heal. Further, they probably don’t have all the facts about the health care costs they are likely to face in retirement. The percentage of household budgets spent on health expenses is nearly three times as high for retirees on Medicare as it is for working households, rising to 14 percent from 5 percent, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

Even before they get to retirement, more than 25 percent of people have withdrawn money meant for retirement, according to PWC’s 2018 Employee Financial Wellness Survey. More than four out of 10 people believe they’ll need an early withdrawal at some point, with 31 percent of boomers and 30 percent of millennials saying they anticipate needing the money to pay medical bills. That percentage drops somewhat—to 21 percent—for Gen Xers.

The point to emphasize is that the most dependable short- and long-term strategy for employees is to have a plan that covers all the bases with voluntary benefits and a tax-advantaged HSA, as well as a retirement savings plan

2. From saving to spending: The lifetime benefits of HSAs

The HSAs that go along with high-deductible health care plans were designed to offer maximum tax benefits. The money goes into employees’ accounts pre-tax, meaning there’s less of an impact on net pay and FICA withholding is lower. Once in the account, the money grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free to cover qualified medical expenses, even for covering deductibles. Non-qualified expenses currently incur a 20 percent tax penalty.

After age 65 or when a person is Medicare-eligible, withdrawals for nonmedical expenses are no longer subject to the 20 percent penalty, although they are subject to income taxes.

What’s more, HSAs aren’t subject to “use-it-or-lose-it” like a flexible savings accounts where the employee has to spend their contributions by year-end. The money in your HSA can roll over year-to-year and continue to earn until you’re ready to use it.

3. Explain how voluntary benefits fill the “coverage gap” at every life stage

Employers should make sure their health insurance plan descriptions make it loud and clear that they won’t cover every expense that results from an illness or injury. Many people are shocked to learn of out-of-pocket expenses they never considered. A range of products, such as accident, critical illness/specified disease and hospital confinement indemnity insurances, are designed to help fill the “gaps.”

Be sure employees understand these voluntary benefits are flexible and can be used for more than out-of-pocket medical expenses, like for mortgage or rent, utility payments, travel, meal prep, dog walking, child care and any other needs that arise. By covering some of the daily living expenses, these benefits also help mitigate stress so employees can focus on getting well and returning to work, a win-win for employees and their employers.

Employers should work with their providers to demonstrate the relevance of voluntary benefits. The idea is to help employees consider their individual needs and the needs of their family.

Segmenting employees by career or life stage can be useful. Here are a few examples.

Protecting “adulting” independence

A person who is “adulting”—getting settled in a career or an apartment—may have financial limitations, from an entry-level salary to student loans. If they are injured in an accident or develop a serious illness, they can quickly be overwhelmed financially. They may not have saved enough to meet a big deductible or continue paying rent if they miss work.

While any of the voluntary benefits would be helpful, young adults might want to consider accident insurance and look for coverage that pays an additional benefit if they’re injured playing in a friendly pick-up game or an organized sport, like sliding into home during the company softball league championship.

“Balancing” between two worlds

For those in the “balancing” stage of life, between “adulting” and “planning” for retirement, family may be their biggest priority. They need to protect themselves, their spouse and children, and maybe even an aging parent. Whether they are a “weekend warrior” family or one with a history of diseases with a genetic component, there’s a lot to protect against. Employees at this stage might want to consider accident, critical illness or specified disease benefits. Any serious injury or illness puts the whole family under significant financial strain.

“Planning” for what comes next

Employees in the “planning” stage are often more receptive to voluntary benefits than their younger colleagues. They have likely seen family and friends struggle with the costs of a serious illness. They are also acutely aware they have less time to save for retirement and less time to make up for unexpected costs or premature withdrawals from their retirement accounts. Appropriate benefits might include critical illness/specified disease, hospital confinement indemnity and accident insurances, and, depending on the plan, might even cover the entire family.

In all of these cases, having to interrupt saving or dip into a retirement savings account could undermine the ability to meet the high cost of health care in retirement. Balances will be smaller, there will be less of an opportunity for the money to grow, and one emergency could be followed by another, making it more difficult to catch up.

4. The power is in the combination

Employers are making it a top priority to help their employees be more financially resilient now and future ready. To help employees protect themselves and their families, employers need to stress that the best strategy is to not just rely on one savings or financial protection option, but to have a financial plan with the right combination of voluntary benefits in conjunction with an HSA.

With many of the tools employees need at their fingertips at work, it’s easier than ever to include the tools to enroll in and manage their HSA and benefits plans through the workplace. Employees can be confident their employer has the information to research and choose the best products at favorable rates. Employees benefit further from employer contributions to retirement plans, and investment options for HSAs.

An unexpected illness and injury can impact the present and the future, particularly when it comes to saving for retirement and amassing the resources to pay for high health care costs during working years and in retirement. Good employers help their employees stay financially fit while they’re working and give them the tools to prepare for retirement and its high health care costs.

by Rob Grubka
Originally posted on BenefitsPro.com

Hot Trends in HR

2019 has ushered in many new trends such as retro cartoon character timepieces, meatless hamburgers, and 5G networks to name a few. Not surprisingly, trend-watching doesn’t stop with pop culture, fashion, and technology. Your company’s human resources department should also take notice of the top changes in the marketplace, so they are poised to attract and retain the best talent. These top trends include a greater emphasis on soft skills, increased workforce flexibility, and salary transparency.

SOFT SKILLS

Gone are the days of hiring a candidate solely based on their hard skills—their education and technical background. While the proper education and training are important factors in getting the job completed, a well-rounded employee must have the soft skills needed to work with a team, problem solve, and communicate ideas and processes. According to Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP and president of HRU Technical Resources in Michigan, “Employers should be looking for soft skills more and training for hard skills, but we struggle with that.” While hard skills can be measured, soft skills are harder to quantify. However, soft skills facilitate human connections and are the one thing that machines cannot replace.  They are invaluable to the success of a company.

WORKFORCE FLEXIBILITY

As millennials begin to flood the workplace, the traditional view of the workweek has changed. Job seekers report they place a high importance on having the flexibility of when and where to work. The typical work day has evolved from a 9am – 5pm day to a flexible 24-hour work cycle that adjusts to the needs of the employee. Employers are able to offer greater flexibility about when the work is completed and where it takes place. This flexibility has so much importance that job seekers say remote work options and the freedom of an adaptable schedule have an higher priority to them over pay.

SALARY TRANSPARENCY

In the wake of the very public outing of the gender and race pay gaps, companies are opening up conversations about wages in the workplace. Once a hushed subject punishable by termination, salary information is now often being shared in the office. Employers have found that the more transparent and open that they are about the compensation levels in their organization, the more trustworthy they appear to their workforce. One way to stay educated on the welcome trend of pay equality is to visit the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website to review wage ranges across the nation. Another great resource is the Department of Labor’s free publication called “Employer’s Guide on Equal Pay.”

By watching the trends in the marketplace, employers can focus on what is important to their staff. Honest discussions about salary and compensation, when and where to work, and developing the employee as a whole, including soft skills, sets your company up for success. When you listen to what the market is saying, you show you are sensitive to what their priorities are—and this is always on trend.

 

Paid Family Leave: What’s the Right Model?

When the Family and Medical Leave Act went into effect in 1993, advocates cheered. But they also lamented the fact that although eligible workers were now guaranteed leave from a job for having a child or other family events, that time would come without a paycheck.

Now, more than a quarter of a century later, the idea of paid parental or family leave in the U.S. appears to be gaining momentum. Both major political parties are stumping for proposals that would provide paid leave — though how the benefit would get paid for differs substantially—and several states and municipalities have already passed laws mandating it.

Paid leave benefits for new parents and other caregivers have also ticked up among the largest 20 U.S. companies in recent years, though benefits vary widely—granted sometimes just to birth mothers. Still, paid family leave of all types increased significantly between 2016 and 2018, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey of 3,500 HR professionals.

That the U.S. would be last among developed countries to enshrine in law paid parental leave, and that it would happen now under a presidential administration seen by many as unfriendly to workers, strikes many as unlikely.

But several political, societal and business factors now coming together explain the new energy.

“I think what’s in the air is a larger conversation about gender inequality,” says Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary. “People are starting to see the issue of parental leave and gender bias as one and the same.”

In the last five years or so, the conversation about gender bias in the tech sector has ramped up, she notes, and in order to get more buy-in many companies have linked it to a conversation about parents. “That parent also is someone who is male,” Creary says. “It’s something that resonates with many people. By making gender inequality also about parents, it has allowed more people, including men, to champion this issue. You are seeing more men talking about parental leave, and that’s a new phenomenon.”

Three trends in particular are contributing to heightened attention around paid parental leave, says Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell. “The first, of course, is that the nature of work has changed with the demise of the single-breadwinner model, and people are much more conscious of the disconnect between employment policies and the realities of daily life,” he says. “On top of that there has been this big shift toward parents spending more time with their children despite the fact that both parents are now more likely to be working.

“Also, there has been this enormous wave of anger around multiple aspects of the ways that women have been treated that is roiling the political system. Women currently bear the brunt of the tensions between bringing up a family and being at work,” says Bidwell. “So any politician who is paying attention is trying to figure out how to appeal to women voters. Parental leave is a really obvious issue.”

In the current crop of declared and near-declared candidates in the 2020 presidential race, “everybody has got to have an opinion about this,” says Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and author of the book Total Leadership. Five years ago, paid parental leave was not a mainstream issue, and now it is, he says.

That the U.S. still does not have paid parental leave is a vestige of a former societal order, says Friedman. “We’re in transition as a society, and I think the traditional ideology remains. It’s weakening, but still too pervasive—this idea of the single-earner household where the primary income generator is the man who is always available for work and the woman is the caretaker of the home. We need more progressive social policy, favored by most Americans, that fits with the pressing realities of today’s working families and that truly invests in meeting their needs.”

Reaching Across the Aisle

It is perhaps adding momentum that one prominent figure advocating for federally mandated paid family leave is Ivanka Trump. “It’s encouraging to see members on both sides of the aisle putting forward paid family leave proposals,” said President Trump’s daughter in a statement provided to The Washington Post.

But the details on proposals from Democrats and Republicans differ greatly. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., announced a proposal in 2018 in which new parents could draw down on their Social Security benefits earlier in life, providing income for parental leave but forcing those workers to extend working years or face reduced retirement benefits later.

“It strikes me as a bad idea,” says Olivia S. Mitchell, Wharton professor of business economics and public policy and executive director of the Pension Research Council. For one thing, Social Security is already facing “enormous financial insolvency problems, and so anything that would stress the ability of the system to pay benefits troubles me a great deal.”

Current projections are that by 2034, in order to meet its obligations, Social Security will have to cut benefits by about 30% or raise taxes by 60%, she notes. “We need to face as a nation what Social Security needs in order to pay its benefits, but picking away at the edges by having it offer other benefits for other purposes doesn’t seem viable.”

The other math problem that would come with the proposal, she said, is that proponents of the idea assume that people will eventually pay more into the system by virtue of the fact that they will work longer to make up for the money they took out as young parents. “But it’s a very big assumption we’re making here,” Mitchell said.

“Why would you require people to hurt their long-term financial security to take care of their kids when there are other alternatives? And this would hurt people at the bottom end of the economy more than at the top end,” says Friedman. “A healthy society is one that cares for its young without forsaking the needs of elderly people, and this tradeoff that’s being imposed in the Rubio plan I think is misguided.”

Democrats are floating their own proposals. In February, presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., reintroduced the Family Act, which would give eligible workers up to 12 weeks of pay at two-thirds of their monthly wages—for new parents as well as caregivers dealing with serious health issues of a parent, spouse or domestic partner or child. It would be funded jointly by employer and employee payroll deductions of two cents per $10 in wages.

In perhaps the most promising sign of progress, a bi-partisan proposal from the Senate is emerging. Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) are crafting a paid family leave proposal, though the details on how it would be funded and what it would provide are unclear. As discussed right now, its benefit term would be, in the eyes of many, inadequate. “Six to eight weeks is maybe not as long as some would like, but is something we could afford,” Cassidy recently told Bloomberg.

But what is clear is the disconnect between the 17% of American workers who get paid parental leave and the 84% who say they would like to see paid family leave for all workers, according to a 2018 survey published by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

It’s easy to see why the idea has become popular. The financial burdens created by taking unpaid leave are substantial, according to a Pew survey published in 2017. That snapshot found that 78% of respondents who received no pay or only part of their regular pay when they took leave from work had to cut back on spending to make up for the lost income. About half said they ate into savings, 40% said they cut their leave time, nearly 40% took out debt, a third said they delayed paying bills, about a quarter reported borrowing money from friends or family, and 17% went on public assistance.

The numbers cut even deeper for households making $30,000 or less, with half of those on family leave without full pay tapping public assistance.

Various Models for Benefits and Funding

Whatever federal proposal for paid family leave ends up prevailing, current programs at other levels of government and in other countries offer some guidance.

“I don’t think we have a good handle on the ‘optimal’ system yet, but there are some good arguments for expanding parental leave in the U.S., which is currently an outlier relative to other developed countries,” says Benjamin B. Lockwood, Wharton professor of business economics and public policy. “We already have many public policies devoted to investing in children and providing support for working parents—from the Earned Income Tax Credit to the Child Tax Credit to our public education system. Given that commitment, it makes sense to me that we would want to provide support during the crucial formative first months of a child’s life.”

The system in Iceland is worth considering, he says. “It has a relatively generous parental leave policy, but it is a bit distinctive in that it has substantial non-transferable (‘use it or lose it’) paid leave for fathers as well as mothers. That helps even out childcare roles between parents.” Moreover, one concern about generous leave policies is they could have the unintended consequence of employers passing over qualified female job applicants in favor of men who are less likely to take parental leave. “A policy like Iceland’s reduces the asymmetry between men and women in that respect, and so may create more equal hiring treatment,” Lockwood adds.

One concern is on the part of small businesses, says Andrea Zuniga, vice president of legislative affairs for Paid Leave for the United States, a three-year-old advocacy and lobbying group. “On the ground when we are talking to small business owners, they say, ‘I’d love to pay this benefit but I don’t have the means to do it.’”

But Zuniga points to systems being used in states that use an insurance model to fund paid-leave programs. In Rhode Island, for instance, workers pay a 1.2% tax on the first $68,100 in earnings, she said. Benefits come to about 60% of an employee’s weekly wage, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $817.

Another concern is how businesses deal with covering the work of parents or caregivers on leave. Larger firms can redistribute the work, and the change creates minimal ripples. But what about in smaller workplaces or on teams? If a worker disappears for six weeks or six months, temps must be brought in.

“It is quite common for a temp to be hired for several months to cover somebody on parental leave,” says Bidwell, adding that it’s “obviously not a painless process.”

Still, short-term pain might be a good investment in the long-term gain. Friedman says some of the best evidence for why paid parental leave is a good idea comes from California and other states that have already enacted forms of Family Temporary Disability Insurance programs.

“The California model has employers and employees pitching in a tiny amount, two-tenths of a percent of payroll contributions, that funds a program that has resulted in better retention of women in companies and without the anticipated, but not observed, fears of loss of productivity. That model seems to be working,” says Friedman. “You get to hold onto talented and experienced people and reduce the likelihood of all of the indirect costs of employees having to find support to take care of their children and the elderly, especially when unexpected problems come up. It’s a win for everybody.”

But legal provisions for paid parental leave are one thing; how it plays out in reality another. Given how competitive the workplace has become, some workers may hesitate to take time off, especially where there is a certain kind of corporate culture.

Unfortunately, there is still career stigma attached to taking leave, says Creary. “In order for the fear of missing out at work to lessen, the culture of workplaces would need to change more broadly to value taking time off. So the stigma is that someone is taking time off at all—not that they’re just taking time off for parental leave.”

Taking time off means working extra hard when you get back, says Bidwell, “reactivating your social network, catching up on what you’ve missed, that sort of thing. Obviously if you are just coming back from parental leave you are already massively stretched. Ultimately, there is a basic tension between extremely competitive careers that reward those who work hardest, and having a rich, fulfilling family life, and those can be difficult of tensions to reconcile.”

It is possible that the more common parental leave becomes, the less serious of a concern this will be. “It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem,” Bidwell says.

In fact, many feel it may not be a problem much longer. Says Friedman: “Change is finally here.”

Originally posted on Human Resource Executive

Episode 9: Being a True Fiduciary with Mark Watson and Kent Thomas (Part 2)

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In part 2 of Cristy's discussion with Mark Watson and Kent Thomas, they touch on several topics like the unique opportunity DPC doctors have to provide care coordination for their patients when they need to leave the primary care home and enter a more complex part of the healthcare system.  Data tools continue to be a recurring theme.  Where your data comes from and to what extent you have access to it allows you to drill down on the cost and get control over it.  Without those data tools, the costs simply control you.  Listen here as we continue to tell the impressive story about the exemplary health plan at Union County, NC.

Kent Thomas (left) and Mark Watson (right)

Kent Thomas (left) and Mark Watson (right)

Meet Mark Watson and Kent Thomas

These two innovators teamed up to figure out how to provide the highest performing health plan they could design at Union County, NC.  It has been years in the making and they aren't finished yet!  They continue to stay ahead of rising healthcare costs but they lead the charge by incorporating Direct Primary Care into the Union County plan design and by building other innovations that accentuated this unique feature.  Mark Watson joined Union County as the HR Director which is the position he held while implementing these innovations.  Today, Mark is the Union County Manager and leads that county into new and even more innovative times.  Kent Thomas of Carolina Health Alliance has advised Union County during the years where they were venturing into these new initiatives and continues to kick the tires on new ideas and the re-branding of existing ideas.  The future is bright for Union County, NC with these two fiduciaries taking charge!

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Episode 8: Being a True Fiduciary with Mark Watson and Kent Thomas (Part 1)

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In this episode, Cristy talks with Mark Watson, who is responsible for turning the Union County, NC health plan into the major success it is today along with the direction and advice of Kent Thomas who helped bring new innovations to the table for consideration.  The success of this local government health plan came as a result of years of digging for better data, finding better answers to their questions and positioning their actions with the ultimate goal in mind--taking down all barriers to better employee healthcare.  It is the question that sometimes gets missed when plans are trying to "save money".  These guys saved their taxpayers' money and saved employees from shelling out needless dollars of their own money just to put their healthcare first.  Listen here and learn from two heros in the benefits industry who have a great story to tell.

Kent Thomas (left) and Mark Watson (right)

Kent Thomas (left) and Mark Watson (right)

Meet Mark Watson and Kent Thomas

These two innovators teamed up to figure out how to provide the highest performing health plan they could design at Union County, NC.  It has been years in the making and they aren't finished yet!  They continue to stay ahead of rising healthcare costs but they lead the charge by incorporating Direct Primary Care into the Union County plan design and by building other innovations that accentuated this unique feature.  Mark Watson joined Union County as the HR Director which is the position he held while implementing these innovations.  Today, Mark is the Union County Manager and leads that county into new and even more innovative times.  Kent Thomas of Carolina Health Alliance has advised Union County during the years where they were venturing into these new initiatives and continues to kick the tires on new ideas and the re-branding of existing ideas.  The future is bright for Union County, NC with these two fiduciaries taking charge!

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

One in five adults (43.8 million people) will experience a mental illness in any given year. The consequences of living with a mental illness or substance use disorder affect all areas of a person’s life, including work. And that affects every employer’s bottom line: Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

However, more than half of people who need mental health treatment do not receive it. In addition to stigma, a major deterrent to treatment is a lack of understanding and support from employers. For example, a survey by Mental Health America found that more than three-quarters of respondents are afraid of getting punished for taking a day off to attend to their mental health.

Investing in a mentally healthy workforce is good for business, says the Center for Workplace Mental Health. It estimates that 80 percent of employees treated for mental illness report improved productivity and satisfaction. Lower healthcare costs, decreased absenteeism, and reduced disability costs also result when employees feel it’s safe to seek the mental health care they need thanks to awareness and a supportive culture.

Take the First Step

Creating a mental-health friendly workplace starts with understanding the issue.

Check out these resources to learn more about how you can foster a mental-health friendly workplace:


By Rachel Sobel
Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

5 Simple Tips to SPRING into Fitness!

Spring is here! That means it's time to ditch those winter layers, and even that excess winter weight. No matter what your current fitness level, spring is a great time to refocus your habits and spruce up your routine.

Get a Check Up or a Physical

Before starting any new fitness regimen, it's a good idea to check with your doctor. Your medical professional will be able to assess any potential risks associated with starting a new fitness routine and may advise you on the types of activities you should try or avoid. For example, if you suffer from low back pain, your doctor can suggest the types of activities that will strengthen your muscles without extra risk of injury, and they may even suggest avoiding certain types of workouts.

Hit the Trails

If you enjoy walking, jogging, or biking, it’s time to take your workouts into the great outdoors. Indoor workouts are convenient, not to mention climate controlled, but it’s time to take advantage of the spring weather and enjoy those activities out of doors for a nice change of pace. While you're at it, change your pace! Try increasing your speed or adding in some hills and add the extra challenge your current fitness level.

Sign Up for a Race

Spring is a great time to walk, jog, or run in a charity race. Whether it's a cause close to your heart, or an event close to home, there are lots of 5K's and fun-runs to choose from. Try searching on Facebook events for upcoming races. Sometimes the simple act of paying a registration can be all the motivation needed to get your running or walking back on track--figuratively and literally.

Join a Local Team

All work and no play can make for a very boring fitness routine. Try joining a local recreational sports league. Check with your local parks and recreation office for adult leagues. It can be a great way to get fit while making new friends. Soccer, softball, volleyball and even dodgeball are common. If you can find coworkers to join you, consider starting an office team of your own. Bragging rights can be very effective motivational tools!

Start a Fitness Challenge at Work

Start a sports team isn't the only way to get the office involved. Consider starting an office fitness challenge. It could be something as simple as a "30-Day Water Challenge" or a "Biggest Loser" weight loss contest. The most important part of a fitness challenge at work is the opportunity to motivate one another, to challenge one another, and even to hold each other accountable.

Start by assessing your current fitness level, consult a medical professional as needed, and set realistic goals for improvement. From there, the possibilities are endless.

It's Intern Season!

Summer internships offer students opportunities to gain real-world experience and hands-on career development. Conversely, internship programs give employers access to highly motivated and educated young workers and give junior managers more experience training and supervising. There are benefits for everyone involved.

However, there are some people risks that many employers overlook. One of the largest issues is determining what interns should be paid – or not paid.

The Department of Labor issued new guidance on January 5, 2018, that gives employers more flexibility in deciding whether to pay interns. A seven-criteria test is now used to determine if an internship may be unpaid, but the biggest change is that not all factors need to be met – no single factor is decisive, and the determination is made on the unique circumstances of each case.

If the job training program primarily provides professional experience that furthers a student’s educational goals, a student may not be considered an employee entitled to compensation. However, if students are doing work usually done by employees and are not receiving training and close mentoring, they should be paid wages. If there is any doubt, the best approach is to pay the student.

4 Reasons to Pay Interns

However, while it’s now legally permissible to classify more interns as unpaid, there are still compelling reasons to pay interns even when the internship does meet the criteria for unpaid status.

Unpaid internships tend to exclude students from lower- and middle-income backgrounds, who cannot afford not to work at paid jobs during the summer. In addition, they may need to pay up to several thousand dollars for course credit, in addition to coming up with funds for housing, clothing, and transportation related to the internship. This can put internships out of reach for some of the students who can benefit from them the most.

Unpaid internships may devalue the work paid employees are doing. After all, interns are working alongside regular employees — often doing some of the same tasks — and not being compensated for that work. This may send the message to employees that their work, or time, is not valued.

Unpaid internships can create a negative impression of your company. Customers or the community may see you as taking advantage of these students, which is not the message you want to portray. It’s a good community relations move to offer youth paid opportunities.

The work the unpaid intern is doing may actually be work that should be compensable. Improperly classifying an internship and not paying the student could result in wage claims that include back pay, penalties, and fines. To mitigate those risks, once again, the best approach is to pay the student.

Hiring summer students is a great way to help youth learn what it takes to be successful in business while helping employers get special projects completed. Plan ahead and structure your program so that your summer internship program is a great experience for everyone.


by Rachel Sobel

Originally posted on ThinkHR.com

The Best Advice for Dealing With Stress at Work

"Work is where I go to de-stress," said no one ever. Whether you're passionate about your job or spend all of your free time polishing your resume in hopes of greener pastures, there's no two ways about it: Work can be stressful. And office spaces? Even with a well-stocked snack supply, they don't exactly exude a sense of serenity.

Most people know that stress, regardless of its origin — can be the catalyst for a variety of emotional and biological issues, including increased anxiety and depression and even heart disease. But how many are actively taking steps to reduce work stress on a daily basis? Not nearly enough. From the perfect lunch to mindfulness techniques, here's how to hack your workplace for a stress-free day.

1. Get Enough Sleep

A good day usually starts with a good night's sleep. So if you're skimping on sleep in order to hang out with friends or catch up on your latest Netflix obsession, there's a good chance you're going to wake up groggy and less inclined to take the proverbial bull by the horns at work.

Without enough rest, your performance at work suffers. You're more prone to burn out, poor decision-making, mistakes and the inability to recover from distractions in the workplace, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times — aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, logging seven to nine hours.

2. Choose a Better Breakfast

In a cruel twist of irony, the most often-skipped meal of the day is also the most important. Not only does sitting down to the right breakfast each morning help you make better food choices throughout the day, it makes thinking clearly and combating work stress easier.

"The reason breakfast helps with brain function is simple — your brain runs on glucose, or sugar," says Patricia Bannan, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time Is Tight. "When you awaken, your blood sugar levels are low because you haven't eaten for eight to 12 hours. Properly fueling up each morning will positively affect tasks that require retaining new information and help you feel better emotionally and physically."

For a healthy, filling breakfast, Bannan suggests her blueberry power muffins, oatmeal with almond butter or plain Greek yogurt with blueberries.

3. Get Preemptively Zen

Taking five to 10 minutes to practice Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) — either on your commute or before you leave the house — can go a long way to easing stress throughout your day, says Nancy Douglass, a therapist and executive coach at the Stress Management Counseling Center in Clinton, NJ.

"MBSR helps because it trains your brain to be more present," she says. "When you're more present, you tend not to get overwhelmed and look ahead at all the many tasks yet to do — instead, you mindfully concentrate on the ones at hand, effectively reducing your stress."

If you're pressed for time, Douglass recommends doing a mini-MBSR exercise to reel yourself back in if you catch yourself stressing. Ask yourself if what you're stressing over is in or out of your control, and then let go of anything that's outside of your control, such as a difficult person at work or a deadline you can't change, she says. "Also, reminding yourself frequently that you can 'only do the best that you can do' will go a long way in keeping work stress in check."

4. Get a Plant

Not only are plants a fun, affordable accessory for any cubicle, they'll make you more productive and will help you deal with work stress, too. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that the mere presence of plants in an office can positively affect one's attention span.

How? Plants help activate your undirected attention systems — the part of your brain that's effortlessly drawn to the attractive or interesting aspects of our surroundings — and this, in turn, gives our directed attention systems — the part that's capable of staring at a spreadsheet for extended periods of time — time to rest and rejuvenate itself.

5. Walk It Off

When stress creeps up at work, take a walk! A 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that participants reported feeling less tense, less stressed and more productive after walking. Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, the study's lead author, wrote that, "Lunchtime walks improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work."

Bonus points if said walk can be done in nature, which also has been shown to be effective in reducing stress, according to a 2011 study in Public Health Reports.

6. Choose Lunch Wisely

Just as choosing the right breakfast is important for combating work stress, so is your lunch selection. Ideally, you want to avoid meals that are too heavy and make you feel sluggish, instead opting for foods that will energize you and that have staying power (think lean proteins and fiber).

"A salad or Buddha bowl made with a large base of greens and other veggies, a lean protein, such as wild salmon, chicken breast or beans, a small scoop of quinoa and a drizzle of tahini sauce is a great workplace lunch," says NYC- and Los Angeles-based dietician Cynthia Sass. "Other options are a taco salad (skip the fried shell!) with greens, grilled veggies, pico de gallo, a scoop of black beans and either half of an avocado or a quarter cup of guacamole; or a veggie broth-based soup with beans, like white bean and kale."

7. Breathe Deeply

Keeping a small essential oil diffuser on your desk can be helpful once that dreaded 4 p.m. slump rolls around. "For an afternoon energy boost, try using a combination of peppermint and lemon in a diffuser, or apply to your temples, wrists and between the collar bones after diluting with a carrier oil," says Kac Young, Ph.D., author of The Healing Art of Essential Oils.

Young, who's also a certified meditation teacher, also recommends breathing deeply when work stress starts rearing its ugly head. "Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs," she says. "Hold your breath to the count of three, then exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach."

8. Know How to Shake It Off

It's inevitable that at some point or another in your career, a coworker or superior is going to make a rude comment or offer unproductive criticism — be prepared. "In The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, he says, 'Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality…' This couldn't be more true," Douglass says.

"If someone deals out harsh criticism or rude comments at work, keep in mind that it's more about their need to offload the negativity and possibly their bad day than it is about you. When people are secure in themselves, they take the time to be respectful of others, not hypercritical and demeaning. If you can keep this truth in mind, you will be able to quickly shake off the salty comments and get back to the tasks at hand."

by Nicole Fabian-Weber
Originally posted on LiveStrong.com

Episode 7: Hope for Rural Healthcare with Carl Schuessler (Part 2)

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In Part 2 of this important discussion, Cristy and Carl talk more about how communities can use smarter tools and under-the-radar rules to save money and provide better care for employees. Carl gives us a glimpse at the re-localization and re-personalization of healthcare which benefits both providers and patients #letsfixhealthcare.

Carl Schuessler

Meet Carl Schuessler

Serving as a Population Health Manager specializing in Cost Containment and Risk Mitigation, Carl is the Managing Principal of Benefit Strategies and Mitigate Partners.

With over 25 years of experience in employee and executive benefits consulting and financial planning experience, Carl offers clients improved cash flow, saves money and retains well-structured employee benefit and financial planning solutions. He is also an accomplished speaker and author.

He was selected as one of the first group of 30 forward-leaning Benefits Advisors in the U.S. to participate as a Charter Member in the Health Rosetta Certification Program for Benefits Advisors. The Health Rosetta is a blueprint of best practices for intelligently purchasing health benefits that’s been sourced from the most forward leaning benefits purchasers of all types around the country. The certification program helps ensure he stays at the front of the market to better serve his clients.

The Health Rosetta’s creator, Dave Chase, recently published a book that I think you’ll find valuable that also mentions me, The CEO’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream: How to Deliver World Class Health Care to Your Employees at Half the Cost.


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Episode 6: Hope for Rural Healthcare with Carl Schuessler (Part 1)

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In this episode, Cristy and Carl Schuessler, founder of Mitigate Partners and creator of the Fair Co$t Health Plan, talk about the state of rural health in our nation and how he is helping a small Florida hospital remake themselves from the inside out.  Better than that, the long-term goal is to elevate this hospital as a hub for healthcare services available to local employers in their community.  So, grab your headphones and #letsfixhealthcare.

Carl Schuessler

Meet Carl Schuessler

Serving as a Population Health Manager specializing in Cost Containment and Risk Mitigation, Carl is the Managing Principal of Benefit Strategies and Mitigate Partners.

With over 25 years of experience in employee and executive benefits consulting and financial planning experience, Carl offers clients improved cash flow, saves money and retains well-structured employee benefit and financial planning solutions. He is also an accomplished speaker and author.

He was selected as one of the first group of 30 forward-leaning Benefits Advisors in the U.S. to participate as a Charter Member in the Health Rosetta Certification Program for Benefits Advisors. The Health Rosetta is a blueprint of best practices for intelligently purchasing health benefits that’s been sourced from the most forward leaning benefits purchasers of all types around the country. The certification program helps ensure he stays at the front of the market to better serve his clients.

The Health Rosetta’s creator, Dave Chase, recently published a book that I think you’ll find valuable that also mentions me, The CEO’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream: How to Deliver World Class Health Care to Your Employees at Half the Cost.


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Episode 5: How Real Leadership is Solving the Opioid Crisis (Part 2)

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

In this episode, Cristy and Mark continue their discussion and dive into topics such as employer best practices, focusing on "whole person" well-being programs, etc.  Transforming workforce culture to think more positively and resiliently about challenges of all kinds, especially how we approach pain, is part of what employers might add to the messaging boards when it comes to addressing workplace wellness culture.  Some messages can be so simple they seem worthless to mention, but we can't be too careful about the positive culture we instill in our workforce.  This positive culture might just encourage an employee to tackle an episode of pain with the will and resilience to manage it without using prescriptions.  It's certainly worth the time to listen to this discussion. #letsfixhealthcare

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Meet Mark Pew

Senior vice president of product development and marketing for Preferred Medical, Mark is a passionate educator and agitator. Known as the RxProfessor, Mark is focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment, particularly as it relates to the clinical and financial implications of opioids, benzodiazepines and other Rx painkillers along with the evolution of medical marijuana . He is a strong champion for the workers' compensation industry to #CleanUpTheMess, a movement he created to drive attention to the importance of individualized appropriate treatment for injured workers. Mark is a vocal advocate of the BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model. A nationally recognized speaker and writer, Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016 and the IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers Award in 2017. His blog was recognized in both 2016 and 2017 as a WorkersCompensation.com "Best Blog." 


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A brief introduction of Mark Pew - The RxProfessor

Dave Chase on the Opioid Crisis

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Episode 4: How Real Leadership is Solving the Opioid Crisis (Part 1)

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

Cristy and Mark Pew begin a discussion around how the Worker's Comp industry took a leading role a while ago and continues today to affect positive change around solving the opioid crisis.  Learn from this important perspective and use insights to move your own organization to take a leading role in the solution as well.  Grab your headphones and #letsfixhealthcare!

mark pew headshot.JPG

Meet Mark Pew

Senior vice president of product development and marketing for Preferred Medical, Mark is a passionate educator and agitator. Known as the RxProfessor, Mark is focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment, particularly as it relates to the clinical and financial implications of opioids, benzodiazepines and other Rx painkillers along with the evolution of medical marijuana . He is a strong champion for the workers' compensation industry to #CleanUpTheMess, a movement he created to drive attention to the importance of individualized appropriate treatment for injured workers. Mark is a vocal advocate of the BioPsychoSocialSpiritual treatment model. A nationally recognized speaker and writer, Mark received the WorkCompCentral Magna Comp Laude award in 2016 and the IAIABC’s Samuel Gompers Award in 2017. His blog was recognized in both 2016 and 2017 as a WorkersCompensation.com "Best Blog." 

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In Ranking of Healthiest Countries, US Comes in at 35

Maybe it’s something in the gazpacho or paella, as Spain just surpassed Italy to become the world’s healthiest country.

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That’s according to the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 economies according to factors that contribute to overall health. Spain placed sixth in the previous gauge, published in 2017.

Four additional European nations were among the top 10 in 2019: Iceland (third place), Switzerland (fifth), Sweden (sixth) and Norway (ninth). Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, jumping three places from the 2017 survey into fourth and replacing Singapore, which dropped to eighth. Australia and Israel rounded out the top 10 at seventh and 10th place.

For the Bloomberg 2019 Healthiest Country Index full data set, click HERE

The index grades nations based on variables including life expectancy while imposing penalties on risks such as tobacco use and obesity. It also takes into consideration environmental factors including access to clean water and sanitation.

Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth among European Union nations, and trails only Japan and Switzerland globally, United Nations data show. Spain by 2040 is forecast to have the highest lifespan, at almost 86 years, followed by Japan, Singapore and Switzerland, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“Primary care is essentially provided by public providers, specialized family doctors and staff nurses, who provide preventive services to children, women and elderly patients, and acute and chronic care,” according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 2018 review of Spain, noting a decline the past decade in cardiovascular diseases and deaths from cancer.

Eating habits

Researchers say eating habits may provide clues to health levels enjoyed by Spain and Italy, as a “Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet,” according to a study led by the University of Navarra Medical School.

Meanwhile in North America, Canada’s 16th-place ranking far surpassed the U.S. and Mexico, both of which dropped slightly to 35th and 53rd. Life expectancy in the U.S. has been trending lower due to deaths from drug overdoses and suicides.

Cuba placed five spots above the U.S., making it the only nation not classified as “high income” by the World Bank to be ranked that high. One reason for the island nation’s success may be its emphasis on preventative care over the U.S. focus on diagnosing and treating illness, the American Bar Association Health Law Section said in a report last year after vising Cuba.

South Korea improved seven spots to 17th while China, home to 1.4 billion people, rose three places to 52nd. Life expectancy in China is on track to surpass the U.S. by 2040, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Sub-Saharan economies accounted for 27 of the 30 unhealthiest nations in the ranking. Haiti, Afghanistan and Yemen were the others. Mauritius was the healthiest in Sub-Sahara, placing 74th globally as it had the lowest death rate by communicable diseases in a region still marred by infectious mortality.

This post originally appeared on BenefitsPro.com.

Responding to criticism, FDA takes action on opioid oversight

The FDA has come under bipartisan fire in recent years for its oversight of opioids. Treatment advocates and lawmakers have blamed the agency for turning a blind eye to the widespread abuse of prescription medication, both by approving powerful new opioids for medical use and for failing to put in place effective rules to prevent inappropriate prescriptions.

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The agency has proposed new rules that will require drugmakers to conduct studies examining the effectiveness of their medications when used for chronic conditions.

The rules aim to address the fact that doctors are often prescribing highly addictive drugs to treat chronic pain. Many experts have argued that powerful opioids should only be used occasionally to treat acute pain.

Notably, the FDA approved the use of OxyContin for chronic pain with no evidence that it can effectively reduce pain in the long-term.

“There are certain important questions that we could answer by properly studying the chronic administration, looking at the efficacy over time,” explained FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in recent testimony to a Congressional committee.

Experts have highlighted a number of medical practices that have facilitated widespread opioid addiction. Not only have those dealing with chronic conditions become addicted to painkillers due to what were likely inappropriate prescriptions, but prescriptions often include far more pills than necessary to deal with the pain that is being targeted, such as recovering from wisdom tooth removal.

Painkiller addiction has played a major role in fueling an explosion in heroin use, as opioid addicts who have exhausted their prescriptions turn to a cheaper fix on the street. Since 2017 nearly 50,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses.

This post originally appeared on BenefitsPro.com.

A NOTE FROM A FELLOW TRAVELER

Guest Post by Tom Emerick

When I travel around the U.S. giving speeches I often ask for a show of hands of people who have had relatives harmed by a major misdiagnosis, bad surgery, botched treatment plan, etc. Nearly every hand in the room always goes up and everyone is always incredibly surprised to see this. I then share that if they know ten people who have died of cancer, likely three of those ten were misdiagnosed and given a useless or harmful treatment plan. Jaws drop, but it’s true.

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I follow this with “how are we spending $3 trillion on a healthcare system that is harming so many people?”How is this happening? We’ve all seen bad medical events with our own families and friends, but we don’t realize how common and costly it is.

This is also the core insight behind what’s wrong with the U.S. health care system.

I’ve had the unique experience of being behind the scenes for more than 30 years. This has let me identify seven high-level systemic problems with the US health care system. All are the result of various flawed incentives Dave covers in the following pages. These problems enormously damage our country, both individually and collectively. This book addresses these issues and practical solutions in a systemic way I’ve not found elsewhere.

1. Lack of accountability

Health care providers aren’t accountable to anyone for the quality of care provided in the U.S. A clinician can misdiagnose 20-40 percent of patients, which many do, yet nobody prevents it or stops them. The biggest care quality failure is misdiagnosis. Anything that follows harms you and your wallet. Data shows that misdiagnosis rates in some categories of major care are 20-40 percent! We have an epidemic of misdiagnosis.

2. Status quo lobbying power

Health care institutions in America are very powerful. Few, if any, sectors of our economy have more powerful lobbies at both the national and local levels than health care providers and health insurers. They have $3 trillion reasons to protect the status quo and spend more than anyone to protect it.

3. The American health care exceptionalism fallacy

There is a fallacy in the U.S. that we have the best health care. This is simply not true. We may have the easiest access to care or the most providers in certain categories. However, the cost and quality of this doesn’t really stack up to our peer countries in any critical systemic metric. Our health care is twice as expensive with significantly worse results.

4. Limited individual purchaser influence

The individuals and corporations that pay for over half of health care lack the individual power or influence to offset that of our collective health care institutions. Our government pays the other half, yet even Medicare and Medicaid do a poor job of managing many issues, including the widespread misdiagnosis and over-treatment of patients discussed in Dave Chase's book CEO's Guide to Restoring the American Dream.

5. Widespread conflicts of interest

The world of health care insurers, providers, vendors, buyers, brokers, and advisors is a bizarre world rife with conflicts of interest we just wouldn’t accept elsewhere in society. For example, benefit managers generally hire benefit consultants paid by health insurers and providers. This is a textbook conflict of interest. If Fred hires Bob to sue Joe, Joe would be off his rocker to hire Bob to defend him. Yet this kind of nuttiness is the default approach throughout the purchasing, administration, and delivery of health care in America. Enough is enough.

6. Poor internal financial oversight

Health care plans are one of the biggest areas of spending and financial risks facing public and private employers, yet they’ve been placed in the hands of human resources managers. Taking care of employees is in HR’s DNA and many are very good at it. Unfortunately, this same trait makes many of them poor benefits managers, risk assessors, and financial analysts. Many just have not made the necessary decisions to maximize the quality and minimize the cost of health benefits.

This isn’t from a lack of solutions. They exist. They give employees better quality care, save employees out of pocket spending, and save employers money. Many HR managers are just not willing to shake up the status quo. Alas, the status quo needs to be shaken up badly.

7. Reimbursement is more a wealth transfer than an economic transaction

Expense reimbursement models in health care are not really economic transactions. If a consumer goes to a doctor who treats the consumer, but is paid by a third-party—an employer, insurer, or government entity—this is more a wealth transfer than a classic economic transaction. Market economics do not apply when third parties pay consumers’ bills. Yet this is how health insurance works.

I highly recommend Chase’s book as it explains these problems and the root causes behind them in detail, then offers common sense ways to take control of health care costs and improve the quality of care your employees receive.

It is do or die time. If you think it wise to save our country and health care system, things need to change and change now.

About the Guest Contributor:

Addressing misdiagnosis and overtreatment in cancer, musculoskeletal procedures, organ transplants, and other high-cost areas has a greater impact on patients than any blockbuster drug. Tom Emerick has more experience with these types of claims than most, if not all, benefits leaders. He was Walmart’s Global VP of benefits and ran benefits at Burger King, British Petroleum, and American Fidelity. He’s the author of Cracking Health Costs and created one of the first centers of excellence programs for large employers, subsequently making it accessible for any self-insured employer. He’s been walking the path this book lays out for decades.

Episode 3: Local Government Employers Lead the Way

 
Healthcare Solutions Podcast
 

Cristy talks with David Contorno, Founder of E-Powered Benefits, about how he is helping an upstate SC County with about 1,000 employees break free from status quo healthcare and try something new.  They discuss the many moving parts of affecting change in a positive way even if everyone is not on board at first.  Learn from their experience and get excited about what you can achieve in your own community

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Meet David Contorno

David Contorno is Founder of E Powered Benefits. As a native of New York, David began his career in the insurance industry at the age of 14, and has since become a leading expert in the realm of employee benefits over the last 21 years.

Among his many accolades, David received a Broker Spotlight in 2004 and was recognized as an outstanding Broker of Service in 2005 through 2014 by Blue Cross Blue Shield. He has continually received the Echelon Award by United Healthcare since 2003, reserved for the top 1% of agents nationally, and was a 2015 “40 Under 40” Award Winner presented by Charlotte Business Journal. Most recently, David was Benefits Selling Magazine’s 2015 Broker of the Year and, in March 2016, Forbes deemed him “One of America’s Most Innovative Benefits Leaders.”

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CMS Disclosure Requirement for Employer Health Plans

Do you offer health coverage to your employees? Does your group health plan cover outpatient prescription drugs? If so, federal law requires you to complete an online disclosure form every year with information about your plan’s drug coverage. You have 60 days from the start of your health plan year to complete the form. For instance, for a calendar-year health plan, this year’s deadline is March 1, 2019.

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Background

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is a federal agency that collects data and administers various federal programs. The agency utilizes the CMS online tool to collect information from employers about whether their group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is creditable or noncreditable. Creditable coverage means the group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is actuarially equivalent to Medicare’s Part D drug plans. In other words, the group plan is considered creditable if its drug benefits are as good as or better than Medicare’s benefits.

To confirm whether your plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage, check with the plan’s carrier or HMO (if insured) or the plan’s actuary (if self-funded). CMS provides guidance to help plan sponsors, carriers, and actuaries determine the plan’s status.

Deadline for Disclosure

All group health plans that include any outpatient prescription drug benefits, regardless of whether the plan is insured, self-funded, grandfathered, or nongrandfathered, must complete the CMS disclosure requirement. There is no exception for small employers.

Complete the CMS online disclosure form every year within 60 days of the start of the plan year. For instance, for calendar-year plans, this year’s deadline is March 1, 2019.

Additionally, if your plan terminates or its status changes between creditable and noncreditable coverage, you must disclose the updated information to CMS within 30 days of the change.

Completing the Disclosure Form

The CMS online tool is the only method allowed for completing the required disclosure. From this link, follow the prompts to respond to a series of questions regarding the plan. The link is the same regardless of whether the employer’s plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage.

The entire process usually takes only 5 or 10 minutes to complete. To save time, have the following information handy before you start filling in the form:

  • Information about the plan sponsor (employer): Name, address, phone number, and federal Employer Identification Number (EIN).

  • Number of prescription drug options offered (e.g., if employer offers two plan options with different benefit levels, the number is “2”).

  • Creditable/Noncreditable Offer: Indicate whether all options are creditable or noncreditable or whether some are creditable and others are noncreditable.

  • Plan year beginning and ending dates.

  • Estimated number of plan participants eligible for Medicare (and how many are participants in the employer’s retiree health plan, if any).

  • Date that the plan’s Notice of Creditable (or Noncreditable) Coverage was provided to participants.

  • Name, title, and email address of the employer’s authorized individual completing the disclosure.

We suggest you print a copy of the completed disclosure to keep for your records.

Note: Employers that receive the Retiree Drug Subsidy (RDS), or sponsor health plans that contract directly with one or more Medicare Part D plans, should seek the advice of legal counsel regarding the applicable disclosure requirements.

Additional Disclosure Requirement

Separate from the CMS online disclosure requirement, employers also must distribute a disclosure notice to Medicare-eligible group health plan participants. The deadline for distributing the participant notice is October 14 of the preceding year. It often is difficult for employers to identify which employees and spouses may be Medicare-eligible, so most employers simply distribute the notice to all participants regardless of age or status.

Click here to download more information.

This post originally appreared on ThinkHR.com.